Simple message delivers 'strong eyes'
‘Clean faces, strong eyes’ is a simple message that is delivering powerful benefits to children in remote Aboriginal communities. Under a project led by Professor Hugh Taylor of the Indigenous Eye Health Unit at the Melbourne School of Population Health, the slogan headlines the Trachoma Story Kits being distributed to Aboriginal communities, schools and health centres in three states.
The kits are the basis of a health promotion campaign to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, trachoma. Trachoma affects 7% of children in very remote regions and is a major cause of blindness in Indigenous Australians.
The kits’ co-developers were the Katherine West Health Board and the Centre for Disease Control, Department of Health and Families Northern Territory.
The simplicity of the slogan belies the complexity of the grassroots consultation behind the kits’ development. The process ensured that the kits’ messages were clear, culturally appropriate and understood, and well received, Professor Taylor says. “It took about a year of sitting down with community groups, school principals and health care workers.”
This included the valued contribution of community elders from the Ngumpin Reference Group. Ngumpin represents leaders of the seven Indigenous communities the team visited around the Northern Territory town of Katherine.
The result is an integrated package of materials that are easy to read, and meld clinical and cultural knowledge and practices, using lively images to engage children and their families. The Trachoma Story Kit’s ‘toolbox’ is tailored to suit clinics, communities and schools using resources such as flip charts, posters, and stickers for children, lesson plans for teachers and online tutorials for clinicians.
The philanthropic backing of the projected expedited its roll-out. “If you have to write a grant to ARC or NHMRC it might take two years to get the funding. But having the philanthropic funding allowed us to get right on and do it,” he says. “It also gave us the flexibility to get back and forth to communities multiple times. People had faith in us and that enabled us to really move ahead.”
The Melbourne Football Club is also supporting the project, sending Indigenous footy heroes Liam Jurrah, Aaron Davey and Austin Wonaeamirri to promote the message in remote communities.
The kits have been a big “hit” with their target audiences. By the end of 2010 over 300 kits had been distributed across the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia.
And teachers have added their own imaginative tweaks, using computer SMART Boards to digitise kit images. This gives students heightened interactivity; they can colour in the screen images and hear sound effects linked to the content.
Professor Taylor has found the enthusiastic adoption of the kits highly rewarding. “It’s having put in the work and then seeing how people have taken the kits up and used that material – it’s terrific. To see them being used widely is also very satisfying.
“We’re really waiting for the real proof of the pudding and that’s for the rates of trachoma to decrease in these kids. I would hope we’d see things starting to improve by the end of 2011.”